Bob Cratchit was working late in the office again; the people in the other teams had gone to the pub for a pre-Christmas drink. The junction design he was working on was an impossible task because he couldn’t maintain traffic flow and provide a single crossing stage for people who wanted to walk.
It was always the same, staggered crossings, multiple crossings and missing out green men completely because of the requirements of Cllr Scrooge who simply wanted to keep all the capacity for motor traffic. “Stop messing about with pedestrian stages and get that road widened” came the voice from the boss’s office; “your engineers have no business trying to make things better for people who don’t drive”.
Bob put his head down behind the monitor. He knew things had to change. His son, Tim, wheezed so much because of the pollution as he walked to school and it was just so difficult to get across the High Street. He feared for his son’s future. Cllr Scrooge marched past Bob’s workstation, sneering at him as he went past. Bob heard a distant phone ringing and then a door slamming.
Cllr Scrooge picked up the phone in his office. It was Fred, his nephew; “Hi uncle, do you want to come to our Christmas walk along the High Street?” – there was a knock on the door, “wait” Cllr Scrooge grumbled. The local cycling campaign had dropped in to ask for support for a protected cycleway on the main road into town. His nephew was still on the phone. “Humbug!” shouted Cllr Scrooge as he cut Fred off. “Roads are for cars, not lycra-clad idiots and people wandering about, getting in everyone’s way”. He slammed the office door in the faces of the campaigners. Cllr Scrooge muttered and went back to reading the borough’s transport strategy. He soon bored of healthy streets and vision zero and dozed off in his chair.
Cllr Scrooge woke with a start. The temperature in his office had dropped to freezing and he could see his breath. The lights flickered and a mist began to form from the gap under the door. It coalesced and grew denser into the shape of a person who Cllr Scrooge thought familiar. “No, it can’t be true; you died of a heart attack” – the mist cleared and there stood Cllr Marley, or what was left of him. His previously chubby face was hollow and his clothes hung in tatters. The remnants of the ceremonial mayoral chain hung loosely around Marley’s neck.
“You’re not real”, exclaimed Cllr Scrooge, “you are dead – I’m the mayor now”. A rasping voice appeared in Cllr Scrooge’s head as Marley’s dead eyes looked upon him. “Scrooge, I have been walking the High Street, condemned to wait to cross the road for all eternity. You will be visited by three ghosts tonight. Be warned. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did, the High Street should be for people.” The mist formed again and Cllr Marley faded away.
Cllr Scrooge woke with a start. “Damn” he said. “Time to go home”. He walked across the member’s car park, almost falling over on some ice. He cursed the highways team for complaining about cuts to the winter service budget. He piloted his big electric car out of the car park and onto the main road out of town. The streets were quiet because it was so late and he made good progress. As he approached the junction with the High Street, an elderly gent was half-way across the road, laden with shopping, but Cllr Scrooge buzzed past him, not caring if the old boy got to the pavement in safety or not.
Cllr Scrooge swung onto his driveway and into his double garage. A rusty bike hung on the wall and he wondered why he ever kept the damn thing. His knees hurt and he’d never get back on it. He plugged the car into the charger convinced he was doing his bit to deal with air pollution. He then went to the kitchen, poured himself a scotch and after settling into his favourite chair, Cllr Scrooge soon dozed off.
He woke with a start. In front of him, there were two brightly glowing children. The older child held the younger one’s hand firmly. “We are the ghosts of Christmas Past” said the older child. The younger child grabbed Cllr Scrooge’s hand and they all flew into the sky and over the countryside to a small village. They gently landed by a cottage and they looked through the window. A teenager unwraps a Christmas present – a beautiful bike. The scene changes. Cllr Scrooge now sees his old friend Fezziwig who is excitedly telling him about the bike courier idea he has had for the nearby town. The scene changes again and he can hear himself shouting at his girlfriend, Belle, as she slams the door shut, sick of his ambition to prioritise cars over people in the town.
Cllr Scrooge wept in his sleep as he shifted his bulk in his chair. After a while, he woke again as a faint green light flickered across the room. The light grew brighter and Cllr Scrooge could see it shining through the crack around the living room door. All of a sudden, the force of a mighty laugh threw the door open and a larger than life figure stood before him, enveloped in the brightest green light that Cllr Scrooge had ever seen. “I am the ghost of Christmas Present” beamed the Green Man and the light grew so bright that Cllr Scrooge had to cover his eyes.
The light faded enough for Cllr Scrooge to uncover his eyes and he realised that they were standing in the corner of Bob Cratchit’s kitchen where Bob’s son, Tim, was breathing deeply through his inhaler. He could hear Bob telling Tim that they would start looking to move away from the town after Christmas so that he could go to a school with cleaner air in the countryside, even though Bob knew he would have to ditch his bike and start driving to work again because of the distance and lack of public transport. Cllr Scrooge had killed off the guided busway proposed between the town and the village.
The green light flashed again and the Green Man and Cllr Scrooge were on the High Street with his nephew Fred and a group of friends. Cllr Scrooge wondered why so many of the shops were boarded up and he made a mental note to organise the removal of the zebra crossing so some more parking bays could be squeezed in. Fred was talking to the owner of the cafe who said he was going to move his business to the next town which had just pedestrianised its high street and built a cycleway right through the middle.
The green light flashed again and now Cllr Scrooge could see that all of the shops on the High Street had closed down. The street was filthy and unkempt with litter blowing around in the chilly breeze. The Green Man had started to glow red and from behind him, he noticed a dark cloud forming. All of a sudden, the now Red Man disappeared and the dark cloud moved closer to Cllr Scrooge.
The cloud smelt of half-burnt diesel and Cllr Scrooge struggled to catch his breath. Wheezing, he watched as the cloud took the shape of a figure in a black, hooded robe. A skeletal arm appeared from the robe and beckoned Cllr Scrooge to follow him. They walked along the High Street and then the main road back to the town hall. Cllr Scrooge noticed that the members’ car park had been replaced by a pocket park with benches and cycle racks instead of reserved car parking spaces.
Cllr Scrooge followed the figure through the doors of the town hall and along the corridor. The walls were adorned with photos of mayors that he didn’t recognise, but then, some way down the corridor, he saw is own photo. The inscription showed that his mayoralty ended next year. Cllr Scrooge said to the hooded figure “but I’ve still three years as mayor”. The hooded figure said nothing and beckoned Cllr Scrooge to follow him out of the door at the end of the corridor.
They walked along the path to the town’s library which sat opposite the town hall. Through the entrance the hooded figure went, passing the books and computers, through another door to the area where the newspaper archive was kept. The hooded figure pointed at a folder which was full of newspapers from about 10 years ago. Cllr Scrooge took the folder from the shelf and set it on the table. The pages flicked and rustled until a newspaper opened at a news story, tucked towards the back of the paper.
It said; “Ebenezer Scrooge, former town mayor has died. He didn’t make it until the end of his term, having been taken ill with a respiratory disease that he suffered with for a decade. Cllr Scrooge is best remembered for the row where he tried to get the zebra crossing on the High Street removed in order to provide more parking bays. His nephew, Fred, said; “it’s a shame that my uncle didn’t want to learn from the past in order to revitalise the High Street. However, I have been able to keep the family name alive in local politics and in my third term as mayor, I will finally close the High Street to motor traffic. I look forward to working with our chief engineer, Bob Cratchit on this exciting project and I also want to welcome our first engineering apprentice, Bob’s son Tim”.
Cllr Scrooge sat down in the chair and turned to the hooded figure; “this cannot be right. I am mayor of this town, not my nephew and his daft friends. There’s no way an idiot like Bob Cratchit is going to run our highways department because he won’t accept that roads are for cars, not people”. Cllr Scrooge’s ranting woke him up. The sun was shining and the sky was blue. As Cllr Scrooge put on his working clothes he laughed at himself for having such an ridiculous dream. He went into the garage where he dug out his tools and he put on some rubber gloves. Carefully, he lifted his old rusty bike off the wall hooks and he set it on the ground. He then spent the next hour dismantling the bike and bagging it up so it wouldn’t get his car dirty when he finally took it to the tip.
Cllr Scrooge went back into the house and put the kettle on for a cup of tea. As he poured the hot water over the tea bag, he started coughing. You see, Dear Reader that despite all he had been through, Cllr Scrooge is a stubborn prick who refuses to listen to experts.